Friday, September 17, 2010

Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures by Marcy Norton~★★★★★

Author: Marcy Norton
Title: Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World
Release Date: April 1st, 2010 (paperback)
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Genre: Non-Fiction

Book Cover: "Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures shows how the exchange between alien civilizations prefigured a revolution in taste that was both genuinely global and largely independent of the power dynamics of colonialism. Norton creatively uses a wide range of sources, from Mayan artwork to early modern medical manuals to Inquisition records, to show how two frequently consumed substances were integrated into European consciousness and diet." - TLS
"Rarely does religious history figure as prominently in a study of commodity culture as it does in Marcy Norton's Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures. The very title points to the central paradox at the heart of this book: tobacco and chocolate were used in Amerindian societies for primarily religious purposes before their contact with the Spanish and other Europeans empires, but over the three centuries following first contact between the old world and the new, tobacco and chocolate came to be commodities that could be consumed as secularized luxury products."-Journal of American History
"Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures is a superior and fascinating book. Marcy Norton seeks to explain why tobacco and chocolate, shunned by Europeans for most of the first century following Columbus's landfall, subsequently became so enthusiastically accepted. Few other writers have probed so deeply and gracefully into the cultural explanations for consumption in Latin America and the world; and no one, I believe, has employed such a range of archival evidence, a most impressive bibliography in several languages, and adroitly chosen ancient images and illustrations."-American Historical Review
"Chocolate and tobacco will never taste the same. Smokers and chocoholics will understand themselves better, thanks to Marcy Norton's book, not as victims of their own addictions or indulgences but as part of a vast, fascinating, and world-shaping episode in the history of cultural exchange."-Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Tufts University, author of Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration.

Taryn's Review: We all know (or should know, anyway) that the Americas were exploited so the Europeans could make some money. Sugar plantations, tobacco plantations, cotton plantations, slave importations, hard labor: these are all associated with the New World. But Marcy Norton asked a good question: Why did tobacco and chocolate goods become commodities that the Old World wanted to purchase?

Norton focused primarily on the Spanish American colonies and Spain. She explored the cultural use of tobacco and chocolate (or cacao) among the Natives, and then showed the transference of these into European hands and then to the European continent. She argued the reason for the acceptance was due to cultural constructivism and not biological determinism.

The book used so many sources and covered so much ground. I loved the images throughout the book and Norton answered any questions you could think of (we discussed it for 2 1/2 hours in class). The only question that the book didn't have an answer for was when did cacao and sugar meet and merge? Did that have an impact on the spread and acceptance of Europe? Maybe someone's already has that book in the works! Again, Norton's hard work (12 years of work on this book, I believe she said!) really shined. This was definitely not a book you should expect to pick up an read in an afternoon. Take your time and really get to know each chapter. It's a fun book and one full of awesome information that will leave you stunned at the end!

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